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  • Writer's pictureGeoff Russell

"Insiders" and anti-nuclear bias

Last Sunday’s (March 10) Insiders saw the host and co-commentators venting on nuclear power in response to Liberal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Ted O’Brien, making increasingly frequent statements about it.

Chris Bowen managed to lodge both feet in his mouth but interviewer David Speers was sufficiently unprepared as not to notice. Bowen reckoned Ontario’s electricity was cheap because the Government subsidised it to the tune of $6 billion annually. Ooops. Like I said, this flew straight past Speers and into the boundary for four runs. The biggest chunk of Ontario’s electricity subsidies is the ongoing cost of subsidising its failed renewables policy.

Ontario still recovering from its Green Energy Act

Ontario’s Office of Financial Accountability reported in 2022 that for the 2021-2 year, 45% of roughly $6 billion in subsidies was spent on shifting renewable costs, incurred under Ontario’s Green Energy Act, from ratepayers to the Government. These green energy contracts will cost Ontario about $38 billion in total over the next two decades. It’s a pity Bowen wasn’t interviewed by somebody who knew more about Ontario and its energy system.

Another 34% of the subsidies was spent on farms, care homes and the like. Some 7.5% went to subsidise low income users, 4.7% for rural and remote users. Do I need to go on? Many Governments selectively subsidise energy of many kinds to decrease social inequities. Ontario’s nuclear plants and plans are attracting so much investment and industrial action, that it has the capacity to make such subsidies. Volkswagen is setting up shop with a massive new factory (1.5 km by 1 km) and energy hungry electric vehicle (EV) battery producers are also heading for the province.

Speers’ contribution to a dismally ill-informed discussion was a few cherry picked examples of overtime and over budget nuclear builds. 

Ana Henderson from SBS was equally ill-prepared, mumbling vaguely about the young supporting nuclear power because they were not aware of the “shocking things” nuclear power has done. Perhaps they don’t watch SBS. Perhaps they get their nuclear information from more reliable sources and understand, for example, that nuclear power has prevented about 1.8 million premature deaths from lung and heart disease by reducing fossil fuel air pollution. They might also know, unlike Ms Henderson, about the 11,400 or so Germans who died prematurely in the decade following that country’s irrational closure of its nuclear plants. Perhaps they have a more objective view of big accidents. Perhaps they know about the gas accident at Ufa, about the same time as Chernobyl, which killed almost 600 and left another 800 with horrific burns. Chernobyl was a horrible industrial accident, but it pales into insignificance compared with Ufa and the gas and coal industries generally. Henderson clearly has an inability to compare and rank energy system accidents. Maybe young people aren’t so easily fooled by anti-nuclear propaganda.

The prime target of the Insiders gang was O’Brien’s estimate that Australia could have it’s first reactor up and running inside 10 years. This was met with ridicule both by Bowen and the various members of the Insiders’ panel: Jennifer Hewett, Peter Hartcher, Anna Henderson and David Speers. Hewett was the only person with the objectivity to note that Australia can’t build anything non-trivial on-time, it isn’t just nuclear.

None of the Insiders seemed aware of the Barakah nuclear plant in the UAE.


Despite a considerably less educated workforce than we have in Australia, the UAE did exactly what O’Brien said we could do here. They went from nothing to a working reactor in a decade. They connected the last of the set of four reactors on March 7th. As a result, they can now export low-carbon aluminium to the EU. Australia has been building wind and solar power for a couple of decades but can’t make the same claim; in fact we have closed to aluminium smelters during that period of our renewable rollout.

Not all gigawatts were created equal

Speers also let Bowen put his other foot in his mouth by comparing nuclear capacity and renewable capacity. After 20 years of climate and energy debates in Australia, how can Speers still not understand that a gigawatt of nuclear capacity is considerably different from a gigawatt of solar capacity? 

Firstly, the ratio of electricity produced during a year from a nuclear gigawatt to that of a solar gigawatt is almost 6 to 1 (based on Energy Institute data). And that’s just a global average. The ratio of electricity produced by a gigawatt of nuclear to a gigawatt of solar during any night is considerably higher! But even that escaped Speers’ grasp and flew to the boundary.

Bowen must have realised he was batting to an empty field so then compared Quebec to Ontario and praised its low prices as being due to renewables, he forgot to mention that Quebec’s renewables are nothing like ours. Quebec has 42 gigawatts of hydro electricity and a population of just 8.5 million. He also forgot that Quebec is seriously thinking of refurbishing  its Gentilly nuclear plant. The under-time and on-budget refurbishing of similar reactors in Ontario, coupled with low levels in its hydro dams this year, have changed the electricity game across Canada, not just in Ontario.

More on those UAE reactors

The UAE reactors are South Korean. The Insiders crew were firmly US/Anglo/Euro centric in their outlook. Why ignore all the places with the proven capacity to build nuclear plants? Is it just cherry picking? Or perhaps racism? Who knows. The Chinese can turn out big reactors in about 5-6 years. We are still happy to buy their cars, solar panels and batteries, why not their reactors? Or Canada CANDU reactors? Given the many mentions of Ontario by Ted O’Brien recently, you’d expect journalists to have done a little homework on Canada and its reactors at least, even if they ignored all the countries that make so many of our phones and cars.

The Canadians haven’t done any new nuclear builds for a while, but they have refurbished some older reactors and that’s given them the skills and experience required to probably match their historical median build time for reactors of just under 7 years.

The US and the EU are pretty much nuclear basket cases. The US nuclear industry has been fundamentally white-anted for decades and is so broken that it’s hard to see them rising from the ashes; despite the recent completions of two new reactors. The US nuclear industry is stuck in the same black hole as US gun laws and electoral system; irretrievably broken and dysfunctional.

But it isn’t just that they can’t build stuff, their design prowess is also under a considerable cloud. The two recently completed reactors took 10 years each to build. When the Chinese tried to build that same design, the AP1000, they took roughly 9 years for each of four reactors (a little faster on the last one). This is despite having plenty of experienced and skilled crews who can build Chinese designs in 5 or so years. And the Chinese 9 year build time was despite not applying one of the more onerous of the US regulatory rules; the revised aircraft impact rule.

The nuclear industry globally (with the exception of some Russian designs, like the one at Chernobyl) has long had a design specification that plants should be able to withstand aircraft impacts without a radiation release. This was enhanced by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2009. Why? Just ongoing white-anting. It shouldn’t be surprising that one ex NRC boss of the period later wrote a book with the at-least honest title of “Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator”.

If you flew a plane into a large occupied office building, as occurred in the US in 2001, thousands will die. But there is no requirement for office buildings, sporting stadiums, or any other high occupancy area to withstand such an event, accidental or otherwise.

Fly a plane into a nuclear plant and what’s the worst that can happen? Nuclear expert James Krellenstein, speaking recently on the Decouple podcast, reckoned the death toll would most likely be zero; apart of course, from those impacted by the actual crash.

But what about crashing a plane into a reactor without the massive and expensive reinforced concrete containment vessel? A reactor pressure vessel is a very small target (about 5m diameter by 15m high… some are even smaller)  and you’d be hard put to hit it. If you were deliberately aiming for it, you’d want an engine, rather than the lightweight structure of a modern passenger jet, to hit it. That would be some very fancy flying. 

If you did manage a large radiation release, what would be the result? There is plenty of evidence that it would be considerably less carcinogenic to surrounding populations than local butchers, supermarkets and bottle shops who sell carcinogens on a massive scale on a daily basis in the form of sausages, bacon, booze and, yes, even cigarettes.

How can we know this?

The Japanese survivors of the atomic bombs of 1945 had an increased rate of cancer, about 11%. Had they moved to Australia and adopted our lifestyle their cancer rate increase would have been far higher. Very roughly speaking their cancer rates would double (from about 267/100,000 per year to 462/100,000 per year).

Strong evidence also comes from the total lack of any wave of cancers from Chernobyl.

Both facts should make it obvious to even a non-expert that radiation is a poor carcinogen at all but very high levels.

But there is also 40 years of research that have led to a total rewrite of the text books on DNA damage and repair mechanisms. DNA repair was totally unknown at the dawn of the anti-nuclear movement in the 1950s. Now it is fundamental to the design of radiation treatment for cancer. There is also detailed and careful epidemiology of a population living in a heavily radioactive area; Kerala in India. Radiation has done nothing to lift their cancer rates … which are 98/100,000 per year (age standardised, of course) compared to our 462/100,000 per year.

Every time I see a recycling plant fire I think about the smoke. All smoke is toxic and dangerous. The difference between radiation and other toxic stuff is that you can easily measure radiation and take appropriate action. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has a set of guidelines for nuclear accidents; had they been followed at Fukushima, many lives would have been saved. Ignorance and stupidity on the part of Japanese Prime Minister Kan were deadly. Throwing sick and elderly onto buses in the middle of the night killed around 50 people to start with; and many more died over the following months of despair or worse, suicide. 

Insiders showed Australian anti-nuclear ignorance at its worst. Ana Henderson typified the one-sided nature of the “knowledge” of many Australians and Speers was simply lazy and unprepared. Happily there is good evidence from around the world that people are increasingly waking up to the lies, ignorance and propaganda of the anti-nuclear movement over many decades. People who oppose nuclear power and make no efforts to inform themselves, simply because they don’t like Peter Dutton are a particularly despicable and indolent section of the Australian community. If you want nuclear plants built cheaply and quickly, then the next, and essential, step is to change the regulatory process; mostly based on obsolete radiation beliefs long since known to be false. 



Philip Fitzpatrick

It gets worse with the ABC.Just saw a train wreck of interview on 7.30 report by Sarah Ferguson interviewing shadow ministor Ted O'Brien. Reactors by UAE were demissed because they were a autocracy.


Owen Gilmore

Thank you. I think it is much worse in the United States where the renewables industry is often able to change a negative price (i.e.subsidies) generating electricity and undercut all other generating technologies. And the NRC seems determined to slow walk and block any new nuclear development. At least in Ontario you have an effective plan and it’s getting done. I probably got on your list from the decouple podcast. Good article! Thanks 🙏


Gary Davies

Thank you Geoff. Here we have the battle. Ignorance, complacency and our very own specialty, "She'll be right-ness".

Donald Horne's words still have great relevance, perhaps even more so today, “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”


crocodile chuck
crocodile chuck

Deftly flensed

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